Report: Security Issues Plague DHS Facilities

Despite its lead role in protecting the nation's critical assets, the Department of Homeland Security is three years late in developing a plan to protect its own facilities from terrorist attacks, according to a new report.

Instead, the department has relied on a patchwork of efforts by its many components, leading to uneven results, the congressional watchdog office finds.

A presidentially-mandated deadline of July 2004 came and went without a comprehensive plan from DHS on how it would protect its own buildings, according to the report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Without it, agencies that conduct sensitive work protecting the nation's borders, buildings and residents have made do on their own, often failing to conduct the kinds of comprehensive assessments needed to ensure they are safe.

In particular, the report cites the Transportation Security Administration for failing to adequately prioritize security issues at its facilities. TSA also failed to evaluate the effectiveness of security procedures already in place at its offices and other buildings, the report states.

Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage.

The agency told GAO auditors that it considers its efforts successful "because it has no known breach in its headquarters and Transportation Security Operations Center." It conceded it is difficult to demonstrate how many unauthorized attempts it has deterred "because it is typically not possible to know when such unauthorized attempts occur." It did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Blotter on

"We were very surprised to find many DHS facilities had no risk assessments or other important actions taken," said the GAO's Mark Goldstein, who directed the investigation.

What's more, one DHS component responsible for the security of other government buildings has trouble doing its job, GAO found. The Federal Protective Service (FPS) -- an arm of DHS whose mission is to protect U.S. government facilities -- reported a $60 million budget shortfall last year and lacks the number of inspectors it says it needs to ensure buildings for other federal government operations are safe.

"FPS cannot always provide basic security services requested" by government offices, GAO found.

When FPS makes security recommendations to DHS, the department has had trouble following them, according to the report. The service recommended the DHS Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services install garage barriers and other security measures at its building, but "it has not been able to prioritize funding" to pay for them, according to the report.

Other components have made progress: the document commends FEMA for installing pop-up ballards and surveillance cameras at its Washington, D.C. headquarters, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for implementing a pilot "smart card" access program, GAO found.

"Given the start-up of the department and the unique and demanding nature of its mission, it is no surprise that there have been challenges in facility management," said department spokesman William R. Knocke. "Come back a year from now and you’ll get even more recognition by the GAO and others that we’re moving quickly and intelligently in the right direction."

In response to the report, DHS acknowledged to GAO its need for a comprehensive physical security plan and agreed to create one. No deadline was set for its completion.

This post has been updated.

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